MANILA — Once considered a non-event, the period for withdrawal and substitution of candidacies has turned into a platform for politicians to stage their own "plot twists," much to the chagrin of analysts and observers, who called the new practice a "mockery" of election rules.
On Monday, Nov. 15, the field was finally set for Halalan 2022 as the Commission on Elections (Comelec) closed its doors for swapping candidates, giving Filipinos a clear picture of who are the main players in next year's polls.
But the road to this clarity was a "messy" one, as political analyst Jean Franco pointed out.
"It's so unprecedented. This substitution practice has exposed how our politics is so messy," she said.
NOTABLE WITHDRAWALS AND SUBSTITUTIONS
The period for withdrawal and substitution for Halalan 2022 began after Oct. 8, the last day for filing of certificate of candidacy (COC).
Among the first to withdraw was ABS-CBN broadcaster Noli de Castro, who dropped his senatorial bid on Oct.13. "Ipaglaban Mo!" host Jopet Sison took De Castro's place in the Aksyon Demokratiko slate.
On Oct. 20, Walden Bello substituted for Raquel Castillo who was the vice presidential bet of Partido Lakas ng Masa.
For over 3 weeks, the tentative list of aspirants was left unchanged.
But by Nov. 13, the political drama started to unfold.
The "placeholders" of Gloria Macapagl Arroyo's Lakas-CMD simultaneously withdrew their bids, giving way for Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio to file her candidacy for vice president.
On the very same day, just hours apart, a PDP-Laban entourage, led by President Rodrigo Duterte, Sen. Bong Go, and Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, showed up at Comelec.
PDP-Laban standard bearers Dela Rosa and Go dropped their respective bids. But in a shocking twist, Go went on to file a COC for president, substituting for Grepor Belgica of Pederalismo ng Dugong Dakilang Samahan (PDDS).
Go's move would prevent a clash between him and the president's daughter.
On the same night, Duterte would reveal he might seek the vice presidency out of spite for his daughter's decision not to succeed him amid excellent survey showings. He blamed the Marcos camp for Duterte-Carpio's choice to settle as a vice presidential candidate.
THE LAST DAY
Because of Duterte's pronouncement, all eyes are on him during the last day of substitution: Will he really face off with his daughter?
These speculations were answered when just-resigned presidential spokesman Harry Roque filed his candidacy for senator as substitute bet of People's Reform Party.
In an ambush interview, Roque revealed Duterte would indeed run for office in 2022, but there would be no clash between him and his daughter.
In between the anticipation for Duterte's supposed arrival, former military general Antonio Parlade, Jr., mostly known for his stint as mouthpiece of the controversial anti-insurgency task force, filed his candidacy for president, substituting for Antonio Valdes of Katipunan ng Demokratikong Pilipino (KDP).
But on Comelec's tentative list of aspirants, Valdes was listed as "independent," indicating that KDP was not recognized by Comelec. Independent candidates cannot avail of substitution.
Is Parlade's candidacy valid? Comelec said it is a matter to be resolved.
Thirty minutes before the substitution deadline, a representative of Duterte appeared at Comelec to file his candidacy for senator, substituting for Liezl Visorde of PDDS.
In a statement, poll watchdog Kontra Daya labelled as "disastrous political spectacle" the substitution of aspirants.
"Kontra Daya strongly denounces [this] mockery of election rules... The disastrous political spectacle these past few weeks could have been avoided if Comelec declared as nuisance candidates those who were clearly placeholders," the group said.
The watchdog challenged the Comelec to "redeem itself" by declaring as nuisance those accused of being "placeholders," effectively voiding the substitutions.
In a press briefing after the deadline, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez admitted their hands are tied until Congress passes a law to prevent the substitution of candidates.
"Substitution has been going on for a long time... Ngayon lang siya naging prominente masyado, precisely because it's played out at the highest levels. Before kasi it was rare but now, see, ganito ang nangyari," he said.
In 2016, Duterte also made a late entry to the presidential race as a substitute candidate.
"The Comelec will abide by what Congress passes. But as far as Comelec is concerned, substitution remains necessary and valid procedure," Jimenez added.
Based on Comelec's latest data Tuesday, a total of 22 national post aspirants withdrew their bids, 10 of which availed of the substitution.